Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A virtual art museum

In the last week before exams, everyone goes crazy. It's mid-June--or, if we are unlucky like we have been for the past two years, it's practically late June--and we're all ready to be DONE. I'm a little crazy, for sure, and I think my students are just counting down to the end. In the past, I've tried to cram the curriculum that I didn't get to into the last few days, or I've done "global review" in preparation for the final exam. This just adds to the craziness and the desperate countdown. So this year, I made a promise to myself (and to my students) that we wouldn't succumb to the madness; instead of forgetting about the good pedagogy and just sucking it up until it was all over, we'd actually do something memorable and worthwhile.

The last unit in the Spanish 4 curriculum is about the art of Spain. It's one of my favorite topics. Unfortunately, because even after eight years of teaching I still struggle with pacing, this unit gets the short shrift. (This is something to improve for the upcoming school year.) I'm fairly satisfied with the way my students and I handled it this year, though. We focused on just a few of the Spanish painting masters--Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Sorolla, Picasso, Miró, Dalí--and created a virtual art museum.

After we studied several masterpieces in depth (Las meninas and La familia de Carlos IV) as a class, students chose a painter and a painting to investigate on their own. I gave them a brief questionnaire to help them decide which painter or style of painting would be a good match for them. (I find that integrating student choice like this is the easiest and most student-friendly way to differentiate.) Then we spent time in the computer lab finding a painting and researching basic information about it and the painter. Students also printed out high-quality color images on the color printers in the lab so that they could view the painting without a computer or internet connection (like in class, at home or on the bus). In later classes, they answered some analysis questions in Spanish about the painting: Who or what is the most important part of the painting? How do you know? How does the painter use color and light? What do you think the painter is trying to communicate? How does it make you feel? Are there symbols? What might they represent? How does your painting compare to your classmates'? Does the painting remind you of anything else (a movie, a book, a poem, a TV show, a dream, etc)? All of this was done in Spanish. Then students wrote at least two drafts of a brief informative essay (about 3 paragraphs) about the painting, the painter and their reactions to the painting. Then, they created a Voicethread: they recorded themselves reading their essay out loud, with accompanying images (the painting, perhaps a picture of the painter, etc). I had used Voicethread to introduce other topics in previous units, so the students were familiar with what theirs could look like.

In the traditional classes, the students embedded the Voicethreads into their class Edmodo news feed. Then they had another day in the lab to view and comment on each others' projects. In this way they acted as museum guides for their classmates. Click here to see some examples of what they did. I also gave them a "scavenger hunt" to complete, which also helped them stay (somewhat) focused: Which painting would be most appropriate on a greeting card? Which looks like the oldest painting? Which painting has the most interesting image? Which one would you hang on your wall? etc.

For the students with iPads, the process was the same, except we didn't need the lab or Edmodo to create a virtual museum. Once the students had completed the Voicethreads, they created QR codes that could be printed out along with an image of their painting. (You can make QR codes here or at just about any site that comes up when you Google "QR code generator.") They posted their codes around the room, grouping them thematically, and then used the Scan app on their iPads to "read" the code and view their classmates' projects. They could comment on the Voicethreads directly via the Voicethread app. It wasn't the smoothest class period, due to end-of-year time constraints and also because it was the first time most of my students had used QR codes. But it was memorable and it got them moving around and actually DOING something interesting and purposeful in the last week of school.

For next year, I would do this project again, but I would make sure we have more time. I'd also like to expand the topic a bit--architecture, sculpture. It could also be a great way to build in a meaningful reflection on the year-long curriculum. Students could answer the question, What do you think is the most important aspect of Spanish culture? That would allow for more personalization as well as prepare them for final exams (sneaky!).

Apologies for the delay in posting this. I really should have posted it in June, but I could not summon the "want-to." So as I reflect on last year to prepare for this year, it gets posted in August.

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